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The past meets present at Sam Tung Uk Museum for a unique art exhibition

In with the old at Tsuen Wan's Sam Tung Uk Museum

As one of the 'Hi! Houses' exhibitions organised by the Art Promotion Office, Jaffa Lam invites us to her elusive dream in her past-meets-present rendition of Sam Tung Uk, a traditional Hakka walled-house preserved as a cultural-heritage museum in Tsuen Wan. Sam Tung Uk was once the home of the Chan clan, a Hakka clan that migrated to Hong Kong during the mid-18th century. With ivory white walls and coal-grey ceramic tiles, the house stands out between the skyscrapers and the hustle and bustle of Tsuen Wan. The Chan clan built their livelihood in this house, where they would enjoy the cool breeze while sitting on the stone stools, where they would feast on their harvest together, and where their children would run around freely along with the domestic animals that lived side-by- side with them.

Jaffa Lam imagines the moment the Hakka clan stepped foot on the area “they were –guests-, ‘Hakka’ itself means the guest. After they settled here for a long time, they became the -hosts- ”. And she designed her exhibition to accommodate this theme of initial foreignness, of eventual and gradual cultural assimilation, and then ultimately, whilst standing on the threshold of two cultures, the never-ending quest to search for one’s identity. Contemporary sculptor and artist, Jaffa Lam, she herself is not a stranger to the hardships of migration. With Hokkien heritage, she came to Hong Kong during the 80s in which she was told by her mother to never disclose her origins and to adopt the mannerisms of the Hong Kong people. But despite speaking fluent Cantonese, she says she is still a foreigner. “Wherever I go I am a foreigner, I am always drifting, and flowing from place to place. That is why I always work with immigrants, we got very similar sensitivities.”

By collecting stories of past times, and following the history of Sam Tung Uk, Lam has built an exhibition that embodies the nostalgia surrounding the century-old house but with a modern rendition-using electrical light and sound equipment to communicate these feelings. Lam heard that there was once a water tank formation in the courtyard that was installed to ward off evil spirits during an epidemic. She recreates this water tank in the same spot with a reflective metal surface designed with wavy water-like shapes, canvassed under a wide sky-blue fabric that functions in bringing colour into the area.

Inside one of the bigger rooms, Lam reconstructs past visions of mundanity, a meal-time with family members, by placing a revolving lamp on the traditional style square table. Throughout the narrow corridors, Lam plays Hakka nanyin (a sombre narrative singing of itinerant blind artists in the old days) music specially commissioned for this project. Inside the kitchen, the pots are curiously opened, and inside a video mechanism is installed with quotes addressing the problems of current education. “Is it wrong or right to kick your kid to learn everything? Or do you want them to learn something inspiring?”

Lam asks the visitors to contemplate as they roam through her exhibition “They will explore this place like a dream. I want them to think about its history as well as our history and rethink about the contemporary issues around us now. What is home? What have we built? What have we destroyed?”

Until Jun 30. Sam Tung Uk Museum, 2 Kwu Uk Lane, Tsuen Wan; lcsd.gov.hk. Mon, Wed-Sun 10am-6pm.

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